Mad at Meyer?

Tennessee's fans haven't forgotten how Florida's Urban Meyer ran up the score last September in a 59-20 humiliation of the Vols at The Swamp in Gainesville. Tennessee's players haven't forgotten, either.

"I think it's on their minds a lot," Vol defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell said this week. "It's on mine. Anytime you get the soup beat out of you, it's motivation."

Although Tennessee's players are carefully avoiding use of the word "revenge" this week, they clearly have not let go of that memory.

"You don't have to remind them," head coach Phillip Fulmer said, "but I HAVE reminded them."

With the rematch coming up Saturday at Neyland Stadium, junior defensive end Wes Brown admits that he recalls the '07 blowout vividly.

"From the defense's standpoint, we remember that," he said. "We want to forget last year but we're also using it for motivation."

Junior linebacker Rico McCoy, generally an easygoing guy, frowned as he relived last fall's Florida fiasco.

"I didn't think that was going to happen," he recalled. "That's not a game I'd like to forget; it's a game I'd like to make up for. This Saturday is the time for us to prove ourselves and play Tennessee football again."

Meyer left his starters in the 2007 game long after the outcome was sealed. Star quarterback Tim Tebow was still throwing the football with the score 49-20. Ultimately, the Gators put 24 points on the board in the final period, turning a comfortable win into a savage beat-down.

"That's not a performance we're real proud of," Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis said this week. "If you want to judge us by that performance, then we were awful."

In addition to the 59 points his '07 defense surrendered vs. Florida, Chavis' 1995 defense was torched for 62 points in his third game as coordinator by a Steve Spurrier-coached Gator team. If Chavis holds hard feelings toward Florida for piling on points, however, he masks it well.

"It's our responsibility to get that stopped," he said recently. "They go out and try to score. I've never been in a position where I've been upset about it because that's what they're supposed to do. They're supposed to let their kids play and let them score. That's what the game's all about.

"I've been in some situations where we've had a few points scored against us. Hey, that's football. You take your licking and you try to get better."

Fulmer hints that the Vol defense was more responsible for surrendering 59 points than the Gator offense.

"We're better prepared than we were early last season," the head man said, "because we were horrible in the secondary, we weren't healthy at linebacker and we didn't have much depth."

Fulmer has never blamed Meyer because Tebow was throwing passes in the late stages of last year's game. The Vol coach was on the other side of that issue when Peyton Manning threw a late touchdown in a 38-13 drubbing of Jim Donnan's Georgia Bulldogs in 1997.

"Coach Donnan got really mad at me for running up the score but we had not played well offensively to that point," Fulmer recalled recently. "We weren't really going to throw the football that much – if at all – but they came with a corner blitz and our answer to that was to throw the hot (read) out there. He (Vol receiver) catches it and runs for a 37-yard touchdown. All of a sudden, it looks like I'm running up the score."

Dan Brooks, who coaches Tennessee's defensive tackles, suggests that fatigue – moreso than Meyer's mindset – was responsible for Florida's 24-point fourth quarter in the last meeting.

"We (defense) played the whole third quarter," he recalled. "But that's not pointing fingers at anybody or anything. It's on us; we've got to get off the field."

The 2007 Gators were marching toward a third-quarter touchdown when Vol safety Eric Berry returned an interception 96 yards, pulling Tennessee within 28-20. Although the big-play TD provided an emotional lift, a weary Vol defense had to go right back onto the field one TV timeout later.

"By the end of the third quarter we're pretty much gassed," Brooks recalled. "You've got a 28-20 game that went downhill pretty fast after that. Just having enough gas for guys to finish the game after playing basically the whole quarter ... that's what made it (fourth quarter) so long."

Even with Tennessee essentially defenseless in the final period, Meyer continued playing his starters and throwing the football.

"It's not like anybody's going to feel sorry for you because you're tired," Brooks said. "You've got to go finish the game. But that was hard. That was a long day."

So, do Tennessee's players view Saturday's rematch as an opportunity to settle the score for last year's disaster?

"I don't think so," Brooks said. "Sure, none of us liked that kind of deal, but that has nothing to do with this game."


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